YWCA CEO: White People Need To “Lean All The Way In” To Help Eliminate Racism


CHARLOTTE, N.C. – “People of color, Black and brown people, have been aware of racism being alive and well. So for the kind of ‘newly woke,’ if you will, people who identify as white, those are the folks that might be reaching out more in a new way,” says Kirsten Sikkelee. She is the CEO of the YWCA Central Carolinas.

The 55-year-old facility is a landmark building on Park Road in south Charlotte. It is a quiet place. Its leader is quiet too, but she minces no words. Sikkelee says, “White supremacy doesn’t just mean white nationalists marching in the streets. It means that our systems have been designed with white dominance in mind.”

What The YWCA Is Doing

Sikkelee is leading the YWCA in its effort to eliminate racism. The organization holds an annual Stand Against Racism campaign. This year, participants lined Park Road while physically distanced and held signs to raise community awareness.

It hosts book clubs; next month it’ll tackle White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism.

And it hosts virtual forums, like one in a few weeks with the retired Fayetteville police chief, who worked to lower the disproportionate number of traffic stops of black and brown drivers in his city by his officers.

On White Leadership 

Sikkelee says, “I am constantly aware of that.” Sikkelee is keenly aware that her status as a white woman could be a barrier when it comes to leading anti-racism efforts. She seeks guidance from the YWCA’s diverse board of directors and leadership team, and she says, “The kind of work that we need to do to continuously be looking at our own house is important. It’s not static. It needs to be ongoing.”

She also seeks guidance from local counselor and anti-racism activist Justin Perry. Perry says, “When we’re talking about Black and brown women, we’re talking about folks that are not only dealing with sexism, but they’re also dealing with racism. So I think that part of the work is for white women in leadership to recognize, ‘hey this is a spot that can be a blind spot for me, it naturally would be a blind spot for me. I have to make it something that I see.'”

Call To Action

If you want to get involved in the YWCA’s work, Sikkelee urges you to call, and ask for her personally. She adds: this isn’t a one and done deal. Racial equity requires our life-long commitments. “I think that it’s the work of people who identify as white to lean all the way in and that doesn’t mean there won’t be times of extraordinary discomfort and defensiveness. It’s important that they sit with that,” she says.

The YWCA Central Carolinas offers a lot of anti-racism resources, including a reading list with suggested books and articles. Click here to go to the YWCA Central Carolinas website.